The Secrets of Solstice in the Year 2020: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Jun 15, 2020

Summer Solstice on the shore of Lake Michigan, by Steve Vorpagel, 2016

The word Solstice derives from the Latin sol  for ‘sun’ and the verb sistere ‘to stop, or be stationary’.  In the cycle of the year, Solstice marks the two points when the Sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky at noon ~ and this year, both of these moments, Summer Solstice in June, and Winter Solstice in December, bring rare celestial phenomena.

So the rare phenomenon at Summer Solstice is an annular solar eclipse, when the Moon moves in front of the Sun and reveals a “ring of fire.” That happens at the end of this week. The rare phenomenon at Winter Solstice is the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. And here’s the crazy thing: the last time there was a solar eclipse at Summer Solstice was 19 years ago; the last time Jupiter and Saturn had a Great Conjunction was 20 years ago ~ and both of these things are happening this year, at the Solstices!

The eclipse at Summer Solstice won’t be visible for us in North America, but it’s still interesting, because it’s happening while the Sun is its pause, which is when the northern part of the Earth seems to take its full out-breath into cosmic spaces. Just then, just at the pause at the full out-breath, the eclipsing Moon slips in.

Summer Solstice was traditionally observed with fire festivals, meant to honor this great turning point in the Sun’s cycle, when, after climbing higher and higher in the sky, it stops and then retraces its steps as though down the heavenly road. One tradition was to carry an old wheel to the top of a mountain and set it on fire, hurling it down the mountainside to mimic the Sun climbing back down the sky.

With the Sun being eclipsed when it’s at its highest, it’s like a call for all of us to shine our own light more brilliantly into the darkness of our time.